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Ballymena Academy pupil Olivia Drain in top five for prestigious FutureChef competition final


FutureChef competition finalist Olivia Drain from Ballymena Academy is pictured with Caitriona Lennox from Springboard and Geoff Baird, Food Development Chef at Henderson Foodservice, sponsors of the competition.


Ballymena Academy pupil, Olivia Drain, has been named as one of five finalists who will compete in the Northern Ireland finals of Springboard’s prestigious FutureChef competition in February, supported by Henderson Foodservice.


The Northern Ireland final of the school’s competition, will see the five young and ambitious cooks face off against each other in the kitchen next month, judged by celebrity chef Jean-Christophe Novelli.



Joining Jean-Christophe and bringing their knowledge of homegrown produce and NI tastes to the judging panel, are owner of the Deane’s restaurant empire, Chef Michael Deane and Food Development Chef at Henderson Foodservice, Geoff Baird.


FutureChef Judges Geoff Baird from Henderson Foodservice (left) and Michael Deane (right) are pictured with Caitriona Lennox from Springboard outside Belfast Met, Titanic Quarter Campus.



Michael Deane has had some of Northern Ireland’s top chefs learn their craft in his restaurants, including James Devine, owner of No. 47 in Cookstown and mentor of one of the young finalists for the February 10th competition.


2021 saw hundreds of young cooks battle it out at the pass, creating dishes hoping to make the Northern Ireland final of the competition and securing what the future pipeline of talent looks like for the NI hospitality industry.


FutureChef competition finalist Olivia Drain from Ballymena Academy.


Ballymena teenager Olivia Drain will be competing against Michael Thompson from Campbell College, Ewan McCandless from Wallace High School, Kristen Nugent from St. Ciaran’s College, and Faith Belshaw from Newtownhamilton High School


The young cooks have been mentored by some of the finest chefs to come from these shores. Chris Bell, John Clark, Chris McGowan, James Devine and Colleen Lennon have championed the young chefs alongside Chef Geoff who works with hundreds of restaurants and hospitality venues across Ireland in his role with Henderson Foodservice, the NI-based company which supplies to restaurants, cafes, schools and hospitals throughout the island.



Olivia competed at her regional heat last year, where she and her peers were under the scrutiny of competition mentor and Henderson Foodservice Food Development Chef, Geoff Baird, and professional chef and judge Chris Bell who method-checked and taste-tested the students’ cooking to crown Olivia the winner. Chris will now mentor Olivia as she prepares for the Northern Ireland Finals in February.


Geoff Baird says Olivia’s dish of Chicken and Pancetta on Lentils had everything they were looking for to progress to the next stage of the competition.

“Olivia’s dish was very well considered. Not only was she thinking about flavours and presentation, but also about provenance and sustainability, ensuring local produce was a part of her dish and she was using as much of her ingredients as possible to reduce any waste”

Olivia’s winning dish of Chicken wrapped in Pancetta on a bed of lentils saw her win her regional heat to progress to the Northern Ireland Finals of the 2021/22 FutureChef competition.


Caitriona Lennox, Northern Ireland Manager at Springboard added:


“Olivia is such a worthy finalist and really wowed our judges with her work and passion for delivering a great plate of food. All young chefs competing in our regional heats have been a joy to watch in the kitchen, and see their ideas come to life.

“We are wishing Olivia all the best of luck at our Northern Ireland finals in February, where, if she wins, could represent Northern Ireland at the UK-wide FutureChef final in London in March.”

Olivia with mentor Chef Chris Bell.


Each finalist will step into their future chef roles on the day, wearing full Chef Whites provided by Henderson Foodservice, to really look and feel the part.

Looking forward to the final of the competition, Geoff Baird (Food Development Chef at Henderson Foodservice) said:


“By our very nature, chefs have passion, and that is what we are all looking for when it comes to these FutureChef finalists.


“I have seen each young cook in this competition consider every detail of their dish, the flavours, how to use every part of their ingredient to reduce waste and to always source their produce and ingredients locally. It’s that passion for local food which can make the Northern Ireland finalists stand out, and it will be very tough to choose a winner out of these five!


“I know that whoever goes through to the grand final in London will represent everything that is great about Northern Ireland hospitality – taste, passion, provenance and something that is truly unique in the world.”



Celebrity Chef Jean-Christophe Novelli who will jet back to Belfast to taste-test the final round of cooking added:


“Springboard’s Future Chef is a fantastic initiative. It is a great way to inspire the younger generation into exploring and developing their culinary skills. I am extremely excited and privileged to be part of the judging for this year’s competition and cannot wait to discover the talent of the next generation.”


And the guest judge for this year’s NI final, Michael Deane added:


“I’ve had the pleasure of serving great local food in my restaurants for over 30 years now and have had some exceptional talent in my kitchens. I’m really excited to see what the next generation of chefs from Northern Ireland are bringing to the table and wish the finalists the best of luck for the final.”


FutureChef Judges Geoff Baird from Henderson Foodservice (left) and Michael Deane (right) are pictured with Caitriona Lennox from Springboard outside Belfast Met, Titanic Quarter Campus.


Caitriona Lennox, Northern Ireland Manager at Springboard which runs the competition added:


“What a fantastic competition we have had in Northern Ireland so far, showcasing the talent that is to come for our hospitality industry alongside some of our top professional chefs.


“FutureChef is Springboard’s flagship educational programme and is dedicated to nurturing and sustaining the workforce of the hospitality industry, alongside a range of employability programmes designed to help young people build skills and confidence to kickstart a career in the sector.


“Our young chefs have been inspired by their professional chef mentors - learning new skills and creating new dishes, and we can’t wait to see who our NI winner is to go forward to the UK-wide final in March.”


Since the FutureChef competition began in 1999, almost 200,000 young people aged 12-16 have taken part and learned how to cook, developing their skills and knowledge with many going on to establish themselves within the industry.


Throughout this time, the competition has progressed and developed to form part of the overall FutureChef programme which offers industry links, online resources, module learning, careers advice and guidance, and a suite of teacher resources.


The Northern Ireland FutureChef final will take place at Belfast Met’s Titanic Quarter campus on Thursday 10th February, and the winner will go on to represent Northern Ireland against other UK regions in March.